AUTHOR OF BUILDING A DREAM
Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
(Eerdmans BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-9)
An unforgettable tale of persistence and problem-solving, based on the amazing true story of a Thai soccer team who made their own place to play.
In Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, atop a network of stilts, floats the village of Koh Panyee—where a group of boys loved soccer but had nowhere to practice. Where could they find space to dribble, juggle, shoot, and score? The boys looked out at the water and started gathering tools. Even while their neighbors laughed, they sawed wood, hammered nails, and tied barrels together. The team worked for weeks to build Koh Panyee’s first floating field—a place to practice, and a place to transform their community…
Kirsten W. Larson: Building a Dream is such a fascinating story, and I loved reading that you discovered the story of the boys of Koh Panyee in a commercial! Did that unusual story spark result in any research challenges, since you weren’t starting with a book or article, for example?
Darshana Khiani: Yes, yes, yes! This story was probably not the best choice for my first foray into nonfiction: a true story from another country, a different language, and one that was likely not well-known or covered by the media. But I LOVED this story. I must have watched the video a zillion times.
Getting the research was a challenge. I searched for Thai newspapers written in English, scoured YouTube, reached out to the team that produced the commercial, and had a friend help get an email translated into Thai that I then sent to the Facebook account for the current soccer team in Koh Panyee. My attempts to reach out to the villagers went unanswered, but I was able to find a few newspaper articles and a couple of video interviews done by other sports outlets.
KWL: Why did you feel a personal connection to this story? What made it one you had to tell?
DK: I’m a sucker for movies based on a true story, where you see real people overcome challenges and succeed. In this humanitarian commercial, I was inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. At a deeper level, I think this mimics my own writing journey. I faced a variety of challenges (personal, professional, etc) on my seven-year journey to get that first book deal. But in the end, I persevered with the help of my kidlit friends, without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
KWL: What influenced your decision to fictionalize Building a Dream? What elements did you make up and why?
DK: The general rule in nonfiction is there should be three sources for every fact. Given the challenges of getting the research, verifying the facts was even harder. I had dates from the commercial and the newspaper articles, however, there were a couple of discrepancies such as when the boys played their first game on the mainland. In a video interview, there is mention of the boys playing on a small tract of land but then the village grew, and they could not play on that land anymore. There was no mention of this in the commercial or in my other sources. Since I couldn’t fill in the gaps and call it nonfiction, I re-positioned it as fiction based on a true story. This turned out to be beneficial since later on I was asked to revise for greater emotional connection, and I was able to achieve this by naming a few of the boys and giving them dialogue.
KWL: Did writing about an unfamiliar culture create any unique obstacles?
DK: Since the main focus of this story was perseverance and overcoming the environmental challenges, I think it turned out fine. I did reach out to some Thai friends for sensitivity readings and a reader mentioned that one of the qualities of Thai people is ingenuity. The people living in Koh Panyee certainly had plenty of that. So I worked that quality into one of the boy’s lines.
I considered adding in Thai expressions or food to bring in the senses into the scene, but quickly realized I was out of my league. Whatever I came up with would likely be inaccurate. So I abandoned that idea.
KWL: Dow Phumiruk is such a powerhouse illustrator. What was your reaction when you first saw her sketches and then her final art?
DK: From the sketches, I could tell she was trying to capture the unique setting for this story, which made me so happy. In the final art, I love how Dow’s illustrations have a dreamy quality with soft blues and greens. My favorite spread is the one which gives a birds-eye view of the village: a storefront selling clothing, a fisherman paddling in with his day’s catch, and the boys rushing over to watch the game at Uncle Hemmin’s cafe. I enjoy this glimpse into daily life.
KWL: What message do you hope young readers will take away from the story?
DK: I want kids everywhere to know that following your dreams is not easy and can take a long time. But if you stay dedicated to your goal, work hard, face the many challenges, and most importantly believe in yourself then you can reach your dream too.
KWL: What a fabulous message. Thank you so much, Darshana!
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Darshana Khiani is a computer engineer, children’s book author, and a South Asian kidlit advocate based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her books include How to Wear a Sari (Versify), an Amazon Editors Pick, and I’m an American (Viking). She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. Find out more about Darshana here.
LINKS FOR DARSHANA’S SOCIAL MEDIA:
Twitter – https://twitter.com/darshanakhiani
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/darshanakhiani/
Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Her books include WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, dog, and two curious kids. Learn more at KirstenWLarson.com. Find her on Twitter @kirstenwlarson and on Instagram @kirstenwlarson.